Odds are, when you need health care you want to be sure the nurse taking care of you is trustworthy. Yet nurses have been found guilty of crimes such as fraud, sex offenses or even attempted murder, and continued to practice, according to an October 2008 article in the “Los Angeles Times.” That's why background checks are a fact of life and employment for nurses.
Education and Licensing
Never mind background checks on the job -- you might even have to pass a background check to get into a school of nursing or get a license. At Boise State University, for example, students must pass a background check before they can begin clinical practice. You need not even have been convicted; if you have pending charges on some crimes, you will be dismissed from the program. The university checks back seven years for crimes such as felonies, sexual assault, homicide, charges related to illegal drugs, arson, kidnapping, poisoning, forgery or insurance fraud. In some states, such as California, you must pass a criminal background check before you can even get a license.
State Rules Vary
Many organizations conduct a preemployment background check on all employees. The actual check may vary from one state to another, as each state has its own rules regarding background checks -- there is no federal mandate on this issue, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. In Minnesota, for example, anyone hired by a school in any capacity -- which would include school nurses -- must submit to a background check. The same rule applies to mental health facilities in Mississippi that serve children.
In addition to criminal background checks, health care organizations often request other information in background checks. Employment history is one thing employers evaluate -- they want to know, for example, if you have a job-hopping habit. An organization may confirm that you actually went to school and graduated from a particular educational institution. Because registered nurses and licensed practical nurses must have a current and active license to practice in all states, employers will typically check with the board of nursing in your state to confirm that your license is active.
Advanced Practice Nurses
Advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives and certified registered nurse anesthetists are authorized to bill Medicare and Medicaid for many of the services they perform. In addition to the usual background checks, an employer will often check sources such as the state list of excluded providers or the General Services Administration List of Excluded Providers. These resources indicate if an advance practice nurse is not allowed to bill for services. Advanced practice nurses are authorized to prescribe medications, so a background check will also indicate whether the nurse has an active furnishing license and Drug Enforcement Agency authorization number.
- Los Angeles Times: Criminal Past Is No Bar to Nursing
- Boise State University: Background Checks Will Be Required for All Nursing Students
- ProPublica: California Will Require Criminal Background Checks Before Granting Temporary Licenses to Nurses
- Society for Human Resource Management: Criminal Records/Background Checking Laws
- Parkland Health and Hospitality System: FAQs
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.